Welcome, dear readers, to X-Men: Bland Design, the weekly multi-part recap column that strives to answer the question: “What if Ed Piskor had no art skills, a juvenile sense of humor, and less classic material to work with?”
Things have changed in the X-Men comics (and superhero comics in general) since the glory days recapped in Piskor’s magnum opus. Gone are all of the thought bubbles, most of the narration boxes, most of the references to past issues, and perhaps most importantly, any trace of the idea that any comic could be some reader’s first. Casting aside many of the properties that set comics apart as a medium, the modern superhero-industrial complex has instead chosen to treat comics as glorified storyboards, decompressed and written for the trade.
But for X-Men fans, it doesn’t matter. We’ll obsessively buy and read all of these X-Men comics until the day we die, no matter how bad they get! And if we’re going to do that anyway, we might as well document the experience for you, our dear readers, brothers and sisters and non-binary siblings in suffering.
This week there are five regular-priced X-Books on the stands, which will cost you 20 bucks to buy, and, thanks to the aforementioned decompression, roughly 10 minutes to read: X-Men Red #2, X-Men Gold #23, Venom #163 (a crossover with X-Men Blue), Iceman #11 (the final issue), and Rogue & Gambit #3. Time to check in on…
CULLEN BUNN (W) • WILL ROBSON (A/C)
• After revelations about Venom’s past and questions about its future, a dangerous new adversary makes its presence known in the Marvel Universe, and not everyone in this titanic tale will make it home!
• And what comes next will spell doom not only for Venom and the X-Men, but the entire MU itself!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Sweet merciful lord! This is the final issue of the Poison-X crossover, which means we won’t have to read about Venom for another twenty years after this. The story opens with Scott Summers (Cyclops), who, like the rest of the original five time-displaced X-Men, has bonded with a symbiote, and the newly-rescued Starjammers realizing that Jean Grey and the rest of the X-Men (and Venom) must be in trouble because Scott lost his psychic connection to Jean. Corsair, leader of the Starjammer’s and Scott’s father (though we’ll point out the comic doesn’t explain any of this — it just expects you to know) reassures Scott that everything is probably fine.
That’s our cue to check in on Jean, who has been turned into a poison along with Killer Thrill by what we think is some new incarnation of Xraven, a mash-up between Carnage and Kraven the Hunter, who is also a poison (but again we’ll point out that none of this is explained in the book — you just have to figure it out). To punctuate this, even Hank McCoy (Beast) is begging for some exposition, but Venom refuses to give it up.
That’s not an answer, Venom! Venom does go into more detail in his inner monologue, for the first time in this storyline explaining that Poisons merge with symbiotes that already have hosts, consume the hosts, and then control the symbiotes. Or something. Two panels on that is all we get, as Bobby Drake (Iceman) defends himself from an attack by Xraven, Killer Thrill, and Jean Grey. Killer Thrill’s crew (who we’re not going to bother to name if the book can’t) are frozen in blocks of ice and the poisons are closing in on them as well. Warren Worthington (Angel) is fighting back, but Venom tells him to stop using his wings because it makes him a big target for the poisons. Unsure of what to do, Warren is cornered by poisons.
Venom and Beast are holding their own against Poisons, but Poison-Jean grabs them and Angel with her telekenesis and restrains them. They’re about to be overrun when we hear the familiar ZRAAAAAAK of Cyclops’s optic blasts (which, thanks to his symbiote powers, come out of his hands now). Cyclops and the Starjammers (also not individually named, in case you were wondering) have arrived. Jean releases the X-Men and Venom, but Bobby nearly falls prey to a poison pretending to be his ex-boyfriend, an Inhuman named Romeo.
Scott pleads with Jean while Venom fights Xraven or Poison-Kraven or whoever (again, not explained in the comic). Bobby barely saves Scott from being possessed by Poison-Jean, but Killer Thrill’s crew is not so lucky. They’re all poisons now. The big green Starjammer (named Ch’od, not that this comic tells you that) fights the big orange member of Killer Thrill’s team. Corsair tells the X-Men and Venom to escape while the Starjammers hold off the poisons. They all manage to escape, Scott reluctantly as he doesn’t want to leave Jean.
As they’re running away, Venom tells Scott that Jean is dead and he just has to deal with it. To be fair, everyone in the X-Books should be used to that by now.Hank calls for Danger, the AI embodiment of the X-Men’s old Danger Room who is also the X-Men’s Blackbird jet, which is also a spaceship, to come and pick them up as Bobby uses his ice powers to melt a hole in the wall (what?) and form a causeway to the Blackbird. The Poisons show up before they can escape though, and in the five minutes since we’ve last seen them, Scott has apparently come to terms with losing Jean.
A battle ensues, and this time, the Starjammers escape while the X-Men and Venom hold off the poisons. Once the Starjammers are safely aboard the blackbird, Scott blows up the ice causeway, creating a vacuum that sucks Venoms, X-Men, and poisons alike out into space. The X-Men float through space, fading away as the poisons continue to try to eat them. While we read some inner narration from Venom about “sacrifices,” Angel turns on his flame wings and burns off his symbiote, apparently killing the poison that was attacking him at the same time, Scott blasts Poison-Jean with an optic blast, and the whole crew of good guys escape to the Blackbird, leaving poor Jean behind.
Back at the spaceport on the planet Ulgriath, X-pository dialogue reveals that the other X-Men have given up their symbiotes. Corsair needs to transport surviving symbiotes back to their home planet of Klyntar while the X-Men need to return to Earth to fend off the oncoming poison attack that’s sure to occur in the next Venom crossover event. Corsair apologizes for the whole Jean dying thing, but Scott says it’s no big deal. Happens all the time. As the X-Men head home, however, Scott catches a psychic glimpse of Poison-Jean calling his name.
Later, on Klyntar, the Starjammers return the remaining symbiotes home, but the planet is empty. The poisons have been there already and took all the symbiotes. The comic ends as an advertisement for that aforementioned Venom event, Venomized. Thankfully, we don’t have to read it since it’s not crossing over with the X-Men anymore.
All in all, while we have no interest in Venom or Venom-related comics, we have to admit this storyline was more fun than we expected. However, like many comics these days, the main issue with this story arc has been the shameful lack of X-position for any of the characters featured in it. Besides knowing that they’re bounty hunters powered by symbiotes, we don’t know anything about Killer Thrill’s gang. Some of them were never named, even in passing. Likewise, we were only got the tiniest explanation, and only in the last issue, of what poisons are, how they work, and why we should care. We have no idea where this incarnation of Xraven came from. The comic just assumes the reader has read the past however many issues of Venom events that preceded this, and is familiar with all of the X-Men characters, but that’s not necessarily true, and that’s a fundamental flaw of modern comics and one of the reasons sales continue to dwindle and comics are unable to capitalize on the massive popularity of the characters in other mediums to see any kind of significant readership growth for superhero comics.
But X-Men Blue isn’t the cause of that, it’s just another victim of the general industry attitude that either new readers simply don’t exist or if they do they should be expected to spend hours on Google trying to figure out what’s going on in these books when a couple of extra caption boxes could make the comic a million times more accessible. Ah well.
Next, the final issue of…